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Authors: Susan Slater

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Five O’Clock Shadow

BOOK: Five O’Clock Shadow
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Five O'Clock Shadow

Five O'Clock Shadow

Susan Slater

www.susanslater.com

Poisoned Pen Press

Copyright © 2003 by Susan Slater

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2003112888

ISBN: 1-59058-104-0

ISBN: 9781615952502 ePub

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.

Poisoned Pen Press

6962 E. First Ave., Ste. 103

Scottsdale, AZ 85251

www.poisonedpenpress.com

[email protected]

Dedication

To TEE—
My thanks for your impeccable sense of the language,
your kind words and support…may ellipses and
dashes always give you pause.

Chapter One

The sharp crack of sound didn't register, hushed as it was in the whoosh of hot air being pumped into the balloon's envelope. Even when the balloon faltered some two hundred feet above the bridge and began its lopsided, rapid descent into the high-voltage wires, its importance eluded her. She didn't scream. She simply dropped the camera and clung to the bridge as the gondola burst into flames.

Then the basket broke free. Strips of flaming yellow and red nylon fluttered in the air; the embroidered logo, the Five O'Clock Shadow, flapped crazily before the gondola slipped between the wires and fell heavily the last seventy feet to thud against a sand bar in the middle of the Rio Grande.

She started running, around the edge of the concrete embankment, down the dirt road and out into the knee-high water. She scrambled across one sand bar and slipped back into the paralyzing cold of the river. She screamed for Randy, screamed his name over and over, crying, choking on the words. Then she stumbled and slipped under the surface of the freezing water, clawed her way upright, tried to stand and lean into the current, make her body move forward, make her arms and legs carry her in the stultifying numbness towards the gondola.

And that's when she saw the apparition. For lack of any better word, that's what he appeared to be. A child wearing a man's white tee shirt and Randy's jean jacket tumbled from the gondola, not fifteen feet in front of her, stood, watched as she splashed through the water towards him, and then ran. Barefoot, bare-ass naked, small brown limbs seemingly oblivious to the temperature as he entered the water, floundered, drifted a moment then got his footing. Without looking back he reached the opposite bank and disappeared into the thick brush that even in November instantly swallowed him up.

But she had no time to wonder how he had gotten there; he hadn't been at the launching some forty-five minutes earlier. She pushed the image from her consciousness and stepped over the body of the pilot, his eyes open, but unseeing, a round almost bloodless hole opened in the middle of his forehead and the back of his head obliterated. She swallowed and tried not to step on the bits of pulp that had ten minutes ago made up a reasoning human being. No, she had to stop. She couldn't allow herself to think, not yet, not until she knew. Knew for a fact. She took a deep breath, fell to the sand and crawled forward to look into the charred basket. Without a sound she simply rocked back on her knees.

She didn't need to prod the twisted body in the bottom of the gondola. Randy was dead. Her husband of six days, her life, her dream. And the only thought that sifted to the surface, allowed itself to break through the swirling confusion, the near massive blackout of thought, was something about hyphens. She wouldn't need to worry about hyphens. Pauly Caton hadn't been McIntyre long enough to even tack the name onto hers.

And that's the way the paramedics found her, rocking back and forth sitting in the crusty, frosty sand hugging her knees and muttering about hyphens. The paramedic who helped her up thought she had been a passenger, too, and it was a confused couple minutes before she could convince him otherwise.

“You're freezing.” The man wrapped a blanket around her shoulders before adding, “You've got to get out of those wet clothes.”

“I'll be fine.” But her teeth were chattering so loudly she didn't think he'd understood her. The bone-chilling cold of the New Mexico dawn had numbed her senses. She slipped off her stocking cap, shook her damp hair, tightened the rubber band around the thick wad of auburn curls and stuffed the mass back under the knit dome. She started back towards Randy but the man stopped her.

“Why don't you wait here by me.”

“Broken neck,” a man called out who knelt by Randy. “Impact of the fall.”

She didn't comment, just sucked in her bottom lip and bit down hard. This couldn't be happening. It was a dream. Any minute now she'd awaken. She turned to the man beside her, but he was gone helping two other paramedics bring a stretcher out to the sandbar. Then the three of them lifted Randy, strapped him down and without extending the collapsible metal legs, carried him back through the water and up the sloping bank.

“I want to ride with him.” She splashed behind them. “Please, I'm his wife. I have to be with him.” Her voice didn't sound like hers as she frantically clutched at the blanket that had been pulled over Randy's face. Finally one attendant shrugged and motioned her forward, then helped her step into the back of the ambulance and squeeze in beside the stretcher. He gave her another blanket to wrap around her legs, then slammed the doors shut, and she had fifteen minutes to say her good-byes and make the most important decision of her brief married life.

It came to her in a rush. What she wanted, no, what she
had
to do. She knew the hopes and dreams of this man so well. This man who at forty-one felt life slipping away. Three months ago he had said, “I need to get married.” And she had retorted, “I think that's my line.” They laughed and he fell over himself trying to explain what he meant, but she thought she knew. She understood the loneliness, the sudden realization that life was whizzing by, and he was a non-participant when it came to feelings and sharing emotions with one special person. There was no family of his own. No little McIntyres. No feeling of belonging.

And now the least she could do would be to have his baby. She'd read about it somewhere how sperm could be harvested after death, how they stayed viable some twenty-four to forty-eight hours after the death of the host, but the sooner the better. She'd meet with the doctors when they brought him in, sign the papers, oversee the procedure. There would be a life born out of all this sadness, the sadness she couldn't allow herself to dwell on. The time for mourning would come, but not now. Now she had to remain brave, direct this one last operation, make certain Randy's wish would come true.

She gently pulled back the edge of the blanket covering his body. His face was bruised and scraped. She caught her breath but knelt and promised, whispered that a Jonathan or Zoe would carry on the McIntyre name. She would do that much for him, this man who had been her life for such a short time. But there were no tears. When the ambulance pulled up at the emergency entrance, she emerged dry-eyed and didn't flinch when the driver referred to Randy as a DOA.

She calmly walked beside the body and spoke with the nurse at the desk who said she'd get someone who could answer her questions. Another nurse offered to dry her clothes and Pauly followed her to a large room partitioned by drapes on circular metal pipes and exchanged two layers of soggy sweaters and wet jeans for a crisp hospital gown. As an afterthought she pulled off the stocking cap and tossed it on top of the pile, then absently rubbed her forehead where the wool-blend cap had raised welts. Randy had teased that she looked like a cone head but she hadn't noticed any fashion plates among the balloon crew.

She heard the attendants wheel Randy's body into an adjoining cubicle discreetly screened from view. And within minutes Dr. Marsh bounded into the room. He was sympathetic and honest and hopped up to sit on the bed beside her. They had done this particular operation just once before but with positive results, the baby had been an eight-pound boy. He understood her concerns, agreed with her that it made perfect sense. He added that he knew from talking with her that that would be exactly what Randy would have wanted. He offered to put her in touch with the appropriate medical personnel when the time came for the insemination.

Then he patted her arm, told her she could stay in the cubicle but to try and rest. He insisted she put her feet up on the bed and lean back; he would prescribe something if she wanted, a relaxant, but she declined. Then with another reassuring pat, he rose to go, saying he'd have the urologist and a lab technician down in just a few minutes and that they would have the paperwork with them. She could take care of the formalities then. He offered his condolences, again championed her decision, and left.

Pauly took a deep breath and looked at her watch. Only eight-twenty. Hadn't she just lived through a century of time?

She leaned back against the paper-covered pillow and tucked bare feet under a cotton blanket and marveled at the starched cleanliness of the bed. Her thoughts tried to stray to the bridge, the shot. Abruptly she fought to bring her mind back to what was in front of her…what she was going to do: create a living monument to the man that she loved.

Finally, she closed her eyes and pressed the heels of her hands against her temples. She applied a steady pressure and consciously made herself breathe in and out evenly. Better. She let her hands drop to her sides and tried to picture babies, some in blue, some in pink, all with curly blond hair and Randy's eyes. Then a dark-haired child in a tee shirt and jean jacket floated across her vision, naked, cold, frantic with fear as he splashed through the water running from her.

She sat up. Someone had entered the cubicle where Randy waited. She wasn't going to join them in a gaping gown, but she relaxed knowing that soon a specimen would be in the freezer and the next decision would be when to activate it. And that was a good question. Did she want to be pregnant in the summer or carry the child over the winter? Odd that it was going to be her choice, dictated by science, not chance. She heard the sound of a razor. Prepping. Of course, she hadn't thought but they would need the area to be sterile. There was the sound of something being dropped in a metal tray. There must be two people working on Randy, but hadn't Dr. Marsh mentioned a urologist and a technician?

One person was humming but not a tune she recognized. It had the disjointed atonal quality of an attempt to recreate a classical masterpiece. Still, it was comforting. Suddenly there was silence, then the clang of metal hitting metal and an exasperated, “God damn it, is this some kind of joke?”

Pauly heard the pop of latex. Was the doctor taking off his gloves? Why was he stopping?

“This cowboy's been shooting blanks for years.” There was no missing the disgust in his voice.

Blanks? What was he talking about? Pauly quickly stood and wrenched the curtain aside in a clattering of C-rings against metal pipe. The two male attendants looked shocked to see her, but one managed to stammer “wife?” and point her way.

Pauly nodded but simply said, “What do you mean by blanks?”

“Vasectomy,” the glove-less one offered, obviously the urologist from his authoritative stance.

“I don't believe you. That can't be true.”

“Listen, I don't know what illusions you've been under but we're not talking fresh scars and the
vas deferens.…
Ed, pull one of those out again.”

“Pull what out?” Pauly asked. They weren't making sense.

“Come here.” The doctor stepped up beside the corpse and motioned her to join him. The technician moved to the opposite side of the table, picked up what looked like a stainless steel crochet needle, hooked at one end, and bent over the body. Pauly forced herself to watch the procedure. Randy's head was covered, green drapes reached to his waist then there was a gap and a green drape covered him from the knees down. The genital area was shaved clear and his penis had been pulled upwards and taped to the stomach. Something labeled a “hot-sac” had been pushed between his legs and propped up the scrotum. A syringe with flexible needle was in a metal tray beside the table. It would have been easy to disassociate in this brightly lighted, scrubbed-clean surreal environment, but her single-mindedness of purpose kept her focused.

The man on the right, still in rubber gloves, tore free the swath of tape across Randy's stomach, tugged the penis farther up, retaped it and stretched the mottled skin underneath to show a recent surgical cut.

“That's my original incision. Now watch. Ed will find the
vasa deferentia
—the deferent ducts of the testicles that transport sperm from the epididymis to the penis. In just a second my comment about ‘blanks' will be crystal clear.”

With the small hooked instrument, Ed dipped into the opening and fished for a moment before snagging what he was looking for. He brought the end of a thin stringy spaghetti-like tube through the incision, and attached a clamp to keep it from reentering the body.


Vas deferens.
And as my aunt would say, this guy's been snippled.” Ed, whoever he was, sounded proud of himself and quickly had a matching limp duct clamped and waiting for inspection on the right side.

Pauly just stared. The end of the tiny piece of human flesh had been cut, tied-off or cauterized in some way, she wasn't certain what they did, but the urologist was rattling on about how the separation was man-made, his guess a number of years old, which meant they could test but it was almost assured that there would be a problem finding healthy, viable sperm, enough to get the job done anyway.

She didn't fight the numbness that spread over her body, kept her from forming words to comment on the urologist's findings. How could she comment? What was there to say? Randy had chosen to have a vasectomy sometime in the past, sometime before her, but had led her to believe that there would be babies, as many as they wanted. It was becoming difficult to collect her thoughts, to truly assimilate what was in front of her. This proof of deception, an ugly twisted lie that could change her feelings for him forever…and why? What did he have to gain by this colossal lie? A lie that could have torn them apart, ruined their relationship…was doing just that right now.

“This isn't my husband.”

Pauly knew she sounded irrational the moment the words left her mouth in a strangled rush of sound. But she couldn't help herself. This lie was beyond comprehension. She pushed past both of them and jerked back the green tarp that covered the head of this poor unfortunate, sterile man. But it was Randy. Her husband, Randy, sallow skin pock-marked with blue bruising, mouth twisted in pain…. She clutched the edge of the table, doubled over with nausea, and sank to the floor as a blackness choked in around her and robbed her of breath.

BOOK: Five O’Clock Shadow
9.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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